The recession is over – now the pain starts

On January 26th figures for the last quarter of 2009 were published showing economic growth of 0.1%. The recession is over. Technically.

Yet the outlook is grim. British government debt is above 12% of GDP, about the same as Greece who’s debt is causing chaos on financial markets. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling anxiously say that this borrowing binge has been in the cause of fighting the recession by replacing private spending with government spending. The billions paid out to banks were, we are told, necessary to prop up the banking system.

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The domino effect of the debt crisis

Who’s next?

On February 4th and 5th European stock markets tumbled in response to the growing government debt crisis in the Eurozone.

Faced with recession governments have borrowed colossal amounts to maintain demand. But as government debt has accumulated international lenders have become worried about their ability to repay.

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Does the X Factor have the x factor?

And so X Factor draws to a close for another year. Like a visit from an elderly, incontinent relative, we don’t have to think about it until we next see Christmas decorations in Sainsbury’s (which could be sometime in late February).

This year was different. Hundreds of thousands rebelled against Simon Cowell’s domination of the Christmas number 1 spot by buying an old record owned by Sony BMG; Simon Cowell’s company. With cash coming in from people who hated him as well those who loved him, it was a very merry Christmas indeed for the Botox puffed flat-top.

I didn’t watch much of the X Factor; I found better ways to spend my time like running a pumice stone over my cold sores. But I saw enough to catch one of the anonymous, androgynous, cruise ship crooners the show produces gushing that singing on stage was “his dream come true”.

Really? Was it? What exactly had he done to pursue this dream? Had he learned an instrument, spending tedious hours plonking Sloop John B and soaking his fingers in Surgical Spirit? Had he formed a band? Had he spent long, boring hours practicing with his band to get to a level where they were able to produce pretty much two hours of non stop music without screwing up? Had he played gigs in pubs where the audience will often tell you to keep the noise down as they couldn’t hear who just scored for West Ham? Had he set up a MySpace page to share his version of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ with the public?

Or had he sat on his arse looking at pictures of Westlife in his bedroom waiting for the next set of crappy TV auditions to come along?

Vapid brain acid like X Factor conveys the idea that all you have to do is wait around. You don’t have to work. The Beatles spent a year before they got famous playing 12 hour sets in some of the grimmest clubs in Hamburg. They had paid their dues. What have these warbling weasels ever done? This isn’t effortless in the way that Morrissey can effortlessly knock out a great song but effortless in that they haven’t done anything.

But along with the idea of making it without really doing anything the format also creates a horrible sense of entitlement. In the early stages you have the spectacle of entrants pleading to be let through with cries of “Pleeeeeeeease, I want this SO much” which for dignity is down there with fishing a pizza slice out of a urinal. People think that just because they want ‘it’ not getting ‘it’ is unfair. Well, try working for ‘it’ like The Beatles did.

But what is ‘it’? Another group in early auditions begged convicted toilet attendant beater Cheryl Cole (there’s a role model) saying “We’ve seen what you’ve got and we want it to”. So they want the house. They want the Hello magazine wedding. They want the stupid footballer boyfriend. If they ever make a record as wonderful as ‘Strange Fruit’, well, that’s a bonus.

Effortless crap served up on a plate. That’s show business!

(Printed in London Student, vol 30, issue 7, 18/01/10)

Do Labour’s cuts to universities punish students for not voting?

The Chancellor’s Pre Budget Report in December was an exercise in politics rather than economics. With an election due this summer Labour tried to shore up its core vote by increasing spending on unemployment benefits, pensions and schools.

But with government borrowing of £175 billion this year the axe must fall somewhere. Higher education is one area where it has. The PBR announced £600 million of cuts to the higher education and research budget and on December 23rd it was confirmed that £398 billion of this would come from university funding.

The government floated plans to pay for these cuts by cutting degrees down to two years and fine universities enrolling more students than the government has budgeted for £3,700 per head. The review of higher education which Lord Mandelson is chairing also seems likely to recommend a rise in tuition fees to help cover the funding shortfall.

Spending does need to be cut but why are students facing cuts which other coddled groups are being spared? Quite simply the answer is, as before, political rather than economic.

At the last election in 2005 the turnout among 18-24 year olds was 45%, “a potentially alarming figure” as one study described it. Turnout for the over 65’s, on the other hand, was 87%. This figure for over 65’s was the same as that for the previous election in 2001 while the figure for 18-24 year olds was down from 2001’s 53%. Quite simply the government can push cuts on students because students are unlikely to punish them for it at the ballot box.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30, issue 7, 18/01/10)